The Nile

I knew it was a risk staying in a hotel and sure enough they told the police I was there. A police car was waiting outside when I left at dawn the next morning. Hoping they weren’t ready, I made a halfhearted attempt to get away, riding down a few side streets but unfortunately they were in fact ready and set off immediately after me.

To be fair, the police escorts I had throughout the day weren’t that bad. They generally didn’t make me stop when changing guards – or at least didn’t object if I ignored them and rode on. They didn’t complain when I stopped to eat either.

After about a hundred kilometres we passed the town of Sohag. The road marked on my map as the major road turned out not to be, and the police decided we should move a few kilometres over to the parallel road.

We made our way through villages on some dirt roads for a while, with the police occasionally asking groups of kids for directions. As we got near to the main road, there was a shortcut via a bridge. The ramps to the bridge had not been constructed but locals had placed heaps of rubble there, wide enough for a bike but not a car. I took this bridge while the police car went a long way round.

After a few minutes cycling without the police, I saw a nice shaded spot and stopped to eat. The police went past shortly after. I wasn’t trying to avoid them – I even waved at them as they went past, but they didn’t see. Shortly after I saw them go back the way they’d come but still they didn’t see me. I was fully in view, but I guess they weren’t just that observant.

I was considering whether I should go back to minor roads from here and avoid the police, but a passing pickup stopped and a lone high ranked policeman got out and started making calls. The original police car came past us again but still didn’t see us even though the policeman and his vehicle were now here!

The police spoke amongst themselves in sometimes heated tones – I think the more senior officer wasn’t impressed they’d lost me. No one seemed annoyed at me though and once I finished eating they resumed following me as I cycled.

A few more changes of the guard later I was asked by the police to stop. I only had 30km to go with 4 hours of daylight left so I didn’t mind taking a break. Like most Egyptian police, they repeatedly told me “5 minutes,” regardless of the time they actually thought it would take.

They were quite nice though, with one policeman filling up my water bottles and another who kept passing me dates. After a while a police car arrived which they said would be my escort, but now they seemed to be saying they thought it was too hot for me to ride. I said I was fine and set off riding again, for some reason without an escort.

A few kilometres later a policeman stopped me and tried to get me to stop and wait for an escort. I told him they could catch me up and after a short argument he let me go. He hitchhiked along for a while to keep an eye on me until the escort arrived.

They had me stop again as I reached Naga Hammedi, my goal for the day. A couple minutes later and I set off again and made my way to the hotel. Even as the police have been getting more overbearing, the people seem to be getting friendlier. Not that they weren’t friendly before, but this afternoon I was getting so many people calling out to say hello and welcome as I passed. Nonetheless the police stayed to make sure I checked in, and even followed me to the shops later.

The policeman stationed at my hotel wouldn’t let me leave until my police escort got there in the morning. Thankfully it only took a couple minutes and then we were off.

As I approached a bridge, they started honking and yelling. Some locals gestured to me that the police wanted me to stop. Well, surely the whole reason I have a police escort is that they reckon the locals aren’t to be trusted, so I just went ahead and rode over the bridge.

On the far side of the bridge they stopped me and told me to go back. The thing with the police is that their main goal is to get me out of their jurisdiction and handed off to the next escort as soon as possible. They’ll make stuff up to get me to go where they want to go. I just insisted I was going this way and they gave up and followed me.

My goal for the day was Luxor. It was only 120 kilometres away so I made it there by midday. The police had been escorting me up to the town boundary, and only made me stop a couple times – and for less than five minutes each time.

Colourful road into Luxor

It was about 40°C so I decided to wait until morning before going to see the sights. I checked into my hotel and had a restful afternoon.

The next morning, I first went to see Karnak temple. There were police at the entrance to the car park and even though I was leaving my bike at their checkpoint, they made a surprisingly thorough searches of my bike. They went through several of my bags and took my penknife, holding onto it until I left the temple.

That may sound like an impressive level of security, but when I was in the temple I found an AK47 with two magazines. A security guard had left it on the ground then gone off to take some selfies in the ruins. But at least my penknife wasn’t left on my bike in the car park, which is the important thing.

Where parts of the temple are no longer standing, blocks are laid out on the ground so you can see the inscriptions on them
The Sacred Pool
Spanish tour groups – there must have been a hundred or so people here, almost all Spanish
Some reconstruction work is ongoing (visitors apparently weren’t allowed in this area, oops)
In the Open Air Museum, various shrines from around the area have been moved to this location

From Karnak temple, I went to Luxor temple, a couple kilometres away.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes links the two temples
A mosque is visible here. They claim this site has been in continuous religious use, first by the ancient Egyptians, then the Greeks and Romans, then Christians, and now as an Islamic mosaue
As in Karnak, blocks are laid out for viewing. Here, where the inscriptions have faded they have been drawn on to provide an idea of what the complete picture would have looked like.

After this temple, my next goal was the Valley of the Kings. First, I took a boat across the Nile.

The Valley was about an 8 kilometre ride away, and on my way there I caught up to two cyclists. Ayla and Sasha, a Dutch couple, were in Egypt for a couple weeks and had rented bikes in Luxor. We wandered around the site together – it was nice to have an extended English conversation.

I see cyclists!

As the name suggests, the Valley of Kings is, well a valley. Throughout this valley are a series of tombs that originally housed various Egyptian monarchs. A ticket to the valley allows you to go inside three tombs.

The tombs were surprisingly deep.
The walls were covered in hieroglyphs. I thought many of them seemed suspiciously well preserved
Each of the tombs had a “guardian,” to watch visitors and make sure they didn’t break any rules. At least, that’s the idea
He wanted us to pass him our phones for a photo from inside the sarcophagus, in return for a tip. We declined.
Extensive artwork on the walls of the tombs

It was about midday when I got back to cycling, and I only just about had enough daylight hours left to get to Idfu, the next town with hotels, 120km away. I decided to cross back to the east side of the Nile which is a few kilometres longer, but is a more common route for cyclists so I thought I was less likely to be held up by police.

Passing the Colossi of Memnos when I resumed cycling

The people in this area continued to be friendly, and I was constantly being greeted by people as I rode through. Unusually, a few of the kids waving to me were girls – they are usually much more shy. As for women, they were a rare sight, especially in the countryside. At one point I decided to see how many men I passed before seeing a woman. The result was 53.

I made my way through several checkpoints without being challenged but at one, a police officer walked out in to the road while calling for me to stop. “No, it’s ok,” I replied as I rode around him.

Perhaps 45 minutes later, a passenger on a passing motorcycle identified himself as a policeman and told me to stop. I declined, and got him to talk to me while we rode. He asked where I was going, then stopped to make a phone call. I expected to acquire an escort soon after, but didn’t.

It wasn’t until about ten kilometres before Idfu that a police vehicle overtook me, then slowed, and I overtook them again. From then on whenever I looked back they were behind me.

I reached Idfu just as the sun was setting and, after stopping at an Orange shop to topup my phone, was guided to a hotel by the police. I checked in and they arranged a police escort to be ready to follow me in the morning.

Oct 8: 190 km

Oct 9: 122 km

Oct 10: 139 km

4 thoughts on “The Nile

  1. Sounds wonderful and adventurous reading your hold ups by police sitting in an armchair- but I know how critical it can be handing out your passport… I once refused to do so and got in big trouble and had to spend a night in a police station close to Abu Simbel. Good luck- I will follow you with the finger on the map! Simon

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